Bernie Sanders uses his gavel during a Senate HELP Committee hearing

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) presides over a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on March 29, 2023.

(Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Citing Drug Price Concerns, Sanders Says He'll Vote 'No' on Biden's NIH Nominee

"Dr. Monica Bertagnolli is an intelligent and caring person, but has not convinced me that she is prepared to take on the greed and power of the drug companies and healthcare industry."

Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said Tuesday that he plans to vote against confirming National Cancer Institute Director Monica Bertagnolli to head the National Institutes of Health, citing concerns over the Biden administration's failure to adequately address the high cost of prescription drugs in the United States.

"Dr. Monica Bertagnolli is an intelligent and caring person, but has not convinced me that she is prepared to take on the greed and power of the drug companies and healthcare industry and fight for the transformative changes the NIH needs at this critical moment," Sanders said in a statement.

"I intend to vote NO at her confirmation hearing on Wednesday," he added. "I have not asked any member of the committee to follow my lead. This should be a vote of conscience."

In July, Sanders—who heads the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee—declined to hold Bertagnolli's confirmation hearing, pressing the Biden administration to take action to lower prescription drug prices.

However, last month Sanderssaid he would allow the confirmation process to continue due to recent actions by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and a commitment he "received from the White House to keep working to lower the price of prescription drugs."

"We need an NIH director who is prepared to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry and use every tool at his or her disposal to substantially lower the outrageous cost of prescription drugs," Sanders explained last week.

As Sanders noted Tuesday:

Our healthcare system is broken and dysfunctional. We spend almost twice as much per capita on healthcare as any other nation, while over 60,000 Americans die every year because they can't get to a doctor when they should. Despite our huge healthcare expenditures, our life expectancy, especially for working families, is below most other wealthy nations—and is declining.

Further, the taxpayers of this country provide over $45 billion a year to the NIH for research and development that leads to prescription drugs and treatments. Yet, we pay the highest prices in the world for the drugs U.S. taxpayers help to develop and 1 out of 4 Americans cannot afford to buy the drugs their doctors prescribe.

On Monday, Sanders urged the HHS inspector general to investigate an NIH proposal to grant an exclusive patent license for a cancer treatment produced with public resources to a company tied to a former federal employee.

With a budget of more than $47 billion, NIH is world's largest funder of medical research. According to the agency, last year's research highlights included progress toward an HIV vaccine, advances in Type 1 diabetes treatment, development of a robotic exoskeleton that helps people walk, discoveries about how the biome affects human health, and progress in understanding and treating Alzheimer's disease.

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